Despite Erdogan’s injunctions, the Turkish birth rate is at half mast

“Have at least three children!” This recommendation, which sometimes takes the form of an injunction, the Islamo-nationalist president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoganhas continued to repeat it during his meetings with Turkish youth or his multiple speeches to the nation, with the idea that demography is a weapon that strengthens the economic and geopolitical weight of a country.

But, throughout his twenty-two years in power, the Turks have, it seems, turned a deaf ear. To the great dismay of Erdogan, the birth rate has continued to decline since 2001, reaching a historic low, according to the National Statistical Office of Turkey (Tüik).

While it stood at 6.38 children on average in 1960 and 2.38 in 2001, the average number of children per woman fell to 1.51 for the year 2023 (compared to 1.68 in France for the same year), a figure well below the threshold of 2.1 children necessary to ensure the natural renewal of the population.

The designated culprit: Eurovision

“It’s a catastrophe, an existential danger for Turkey,” the Turkish president was publicly moved on May 20, following the publication of the official figures, reports the weekly Gazete Oksijen.

He immediately pointed to a culprit: Eurovision. The victory of a Swiss artist, Nemo, wearing a skirt on stage would illustrate, according to the Islamo-nationalist leader, the activity of numerous “Trojan horses” coming from abroad and aiming to “degender” Turkish youth and to encourage them not to reproduce.

There BBC Turkce for its part, maintained with specialists on the issue and offers other explanations for the phenomenon, particularly economic ones. The country has faced an economic and monetary crisis in recent years which has thrown many families into poverty. “Lack of economic means and fear of tomorrow can encourage people to give up on having children, or to postpone this decision until later,” explains demographer Selin Köksal.

Strong regional disparities

Access to education and contraception also pushes women to plan births, and the majority of them now choose to have only one or two children, adds demographer Alanur Çavlin.

The downward trend in the birth rate extends to the entire country, even if clear differences persist between the west of the country, more economically developed, and the east, in particular the regions with a Kurdish majority. Thus, if the average number of births per woman amounts to 1.2 in cities like Istanbul or Ankara, it is 2.72 in Sirnak, on the Iraqi border, or 2.4 in Mardin, on the border Syrian.

A situation which alarms the conservative opposition daily Karar. Who is also concerned about the arrival of migrants and refugees in the country: “The number of Turks in Turkey is collapsing, how can you call yourself a nationalist and tolerate this? How could the situation deteriorate so quickly under the Erdogan presidency?” exclaims an editorialist.

France, an example to follow?

Rather than blaming the increase in divorces, talking about “conspiracy against the family” or “LGBTIzation” of society, the Turkish government would do well to take inspiration from France if it wants to reverse the trend, believes sociologist Ilknur Yüksel Kaptanoglu, interviewed by the online media Bianet : “France is the country in Europe with the highest fertility rate, in particular because it allows women who wish to have children to continue working by offering them solutions (…) childcare”, almost non-existent in Türkiye, underlines the researcher.

While 65% of the Turkish population is today under 40 years old and only 12% over 65 years old (compared to 22% in France), the question of anticipating the massive aging of the population arises, explains everyday life Birgun. There are no retirement homes or subsidized home help systems for the elderly.

Economic growth, long driven by the infrastructure projects necessary to cope with the increase in population, should now be oriented towards technology, provided that the State takes appropriate measures, believes the daily. One thing is certain: “In his vain anger, Erdogan, who only repeats his injunctions to have three children, is now fighting against windmills.”

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